Exploring the secrets of inland Andalucia

During a three day whirlwind tour in September I saw a change of scenery for me with a visit to Malaga covering La  Serranía de Ronda and inland Malaga area. I was guided by Peter Jones, the ABS President (who has guided me here before). The weather was in my favour averaging around 30°.  With 122 species of bird seen and with 14 species of new fauna for my list it turned out to be an excellent trip.

Day 1. I was picked up by my guide Peter, who had previously told me that entry into the vehicle would not be permitted unless I had brought some traditional Welsh cakes with me, and so without further ado we started birding straight away visiting a nearby wetland area just outside of the airport. The usual Little Egrets were present and Pallid Swifts were aerial feeding. A group of Common Waxbills (a species I missed this year on Majorca) fed in small groups at a puddle so this was to be the first lifer for me.

Crested Lark
Crested Lark (ID hint look at that large bill)

On a section of the Rio Grande I added some new dragonfly and damselfly lifers for my list in the form of an Orange-winged Dropwing, Southern Darter, Blue Emperor, Broad Scarlet and an Epaulet Dragonfly. A Viperine Snake made its way slowly through the water channel. What a great day so far. We joined the main road and made our way to another dust track and followed this into a mountain area, where we stopped to enjoy great views of a 200+ migrating Bee Eaters aerial feeding with around 400 House Martins. The latter were landing in the nearby Eucalyptus trees in large groups. It was nice to see my first Linseed plants and the local trees in the mountain area consisted of Black Pines – another lifer. After some lunch in El Burgos we moved onto Serrato where we watched a juvenile Rock Bunting, Common Crossbills, Serins, the strange looking Spanish Oyster plant (a species of Thistle), and where I also added Tree Grayling and Wood White butterflies to my life list. Four Black-eared Wheatears were scurrying about on a rock outcrop and a single Cardinal Fritillary and Adonis Blue butterflies added to my ever growing life list. A Common Redstart darted down into cover and out of sight, but a Dartford Warbler flew past looking quite dark as it too flitted into cover. The good wildlife prompted out some Welsh cakes to nibble on.

Bee Eater
Great to have seen good numbers of Bee Eater

Peter stopped to show me the different species of Oak to be found in close proximity, which included Quercus rotundifolia (with its round leaves), Quercus Ilex (with its prickly leaves) and Quercus canariensis. I was surprised to learn that what looked like the same species of Oak were actually several different species – and all in such close proximity. As we descended back down the valley we watched a juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle over a distant escarpment, and the first Iberian Grey Shrike of the trip flew off from a nearby fence post. A Black Wheatear was a nice surprise and the first of many, and in a nearby field a juvenile ringtail Montagu’s Harrier was hunting – what a beautiful looking bird. It settled down onto the ground eventually but was some distance away. Peter took the opportunity to tell me of the fantastic Montagu’s projects the ABS are involved in. A juvenile Woodchat Shrike and Thekla Larks ended a great first day. It was lovely to be back in such beautiful surroundings.

Thekla Lark
Nice to have seen both this Thekla Lark and earlier a Crested Lark for comparison.

Day 2 started off equally well this time in Libar (after a lovely simple breakfast of Tortosa de Tomate) washed down with a beautiful cup of coffee -what a great way to start the day. We began watching Spotless Starlings, and masses of Griffon Vultures circling on the warm morning thermals. Crag Martins, a female Black Redstart, a Booted Eagle, Rock Doves (of the pure wild form), a family group of Blue Rock Thrushes and a singing Spectacled Warbler all added to a great bird list. Heading towards the Grazalema area we passed the crimson bark of freshly cut Cork Oaks, and alongside a field we counted over 30 Rock Sparrows. It was good to see the tradition of using the bark for wine bottle corks, and the cutting process causing no ill effect to the trees which simply grow back fresh bark which darkens with age. Further along the road a Melodious Warbler flew past and an Osprey was sat in a dead tree in a nearby reservoir. A roadside stop at La Gargante Verde gave us a large group of circling Honey Buzzards, gaining height before continuing on their journey to Africa for the winter. It was great to watch this group circling, and the more we looked the more we could see. What an inspiring experience. A Small Copper butterfly drifted gently past and as we drove higher along the twisting mountain road we passed the seed heads of Verbascum and watched more migrating Bee Eaters overhead before reaching a very special group of trees.


The famous and wonderful Libar track.

We stopped to admire the endemic and pre-glacial Pinsapo Pines. These magnificent trees have cones that actually grow upwards, and even the pine needles are angled to ensure the rain and morning dew falls onto the branch stem to help nourish the tree. What an impressive looking tree. At a nearby water trough we stopped to watch the local mountain birds coming down to drink which included a juvenile (and one adult) male Rock Buntings, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Serin and a Bonelli’s Warbler. We were only about twenty foot away from this trough, yet the birds descended to drink and bathe without a care in the world. Another stop near a pool area gave us Clouded Yellow butterflies, Stripe-necked Terrapins and a female Cirl Bunting.

This took us to lunch where a beautifully cooked Spanish omelette and some Olives on the side tasted divine, washed down with an ice-cold beer (or was it two)? After lunch the excitement continued with a Scarce Swallowtail butterfly being a lifer for me, along with another Cardinal Fritillary and a Short-toed Eagle. A Large Tortoiseshell butterfly (another lifer) flew quickly past but we could not relocate it. Another Iberian Grey Shrike, a Hoof Fungus growing from the side of a Holm Oak and a pair of Southern Darter dragonflies all showed well.  For me, it is not just about seeing the birds, but the majestic beauty of the landscape and the array of flora that all have their interests to me, and coupled with great food and lovely people, the whole experience comes into its own.

Scarce Swallowtail
A new butterfly species for me was the Scarce Swallowtail.

Driving through open country we passed fields of Sunflowers and contrary to popular belief, they don’t bow their heads in the full Sun, they actually turn their heads away. Quite unusual when you realise what the plant is doing. More Black Wheatears were seen along this road along with Crested Larks and a good number of brightly coloured Stonechats. Another stop off gave us a Short-toed Treecreeper calling and a Honey Buzzard which passed right over our heads. The strong sunlight shone down through its wings giving it a beautiful appearance.

A sad sight awaited us at a nearby water filled ravine, where a juvenile Short-toed Eagle was tangled up in the vegetation. It had been there for some time and we surmised it had come in to catch some prey, possibly a Snake and had got caught up and drowned. What a shame. A number of Small Blue butterflies were feeding around the damp mud and a Common Whitethroat was added to the list. A Thekla Lark decided to play hide and seek with us behind a rock which was very amusing to watch. As the afternoon continued we drove along a rough mountain track watching dark and pale morph Booted Eagles, a male Sparrowhawk hunting, Subalpine Warbler, Reed Warbler, a juvenile Woodchat Shrike and more migrating Honey Buzzards, with Common Blue Damselflies, Nuthatch, Sardinian and Cetti’s Warblers and a Green Sandpiper added to the list, the latter blended in well amongst a handful of stones at a river’s edge where there was masses of Scrub Elder in fruit. A Nightingale was hidden amongst the bankside vegetation. I crouched down to take a photograph of a damselfly and as I did so, lots of tiny Marsh Frogs scampered into the river from the water’s edge. The damselfly turned out to be a Copper Damselfly with noticeably big black eyes – another lifer which ended another superb day.

Copper Damselfly
Another first for me was Copper Damselfly.

My final day saw my adventure continue with guide Peter this time around the Serranía de Ronda area and minus the Welsh cakes. The glorious weather continued making for some lovely sunlit escarpments and good strong light for bird watching. Breakfast was going to be later this morning, as Peter had a surprise lined up for me, and as it happens, turned out to be one of my most memorable birding experiences. For me, the best part of this magical trip was a surprise visit to a mountain pool area which had been constructed by Pieter Verheij to attract the woodland birds down to drink and bathe, and ensuring they had a ready supply of water. And what a show I was in for.

An early morning view from the hide at Algaba.

As I sat in a well-constructed hide, Peter went outside to open the covers revealing two way glass. This was going to be ideal to watch the birds without disturbing them, and right on cue the first of the visitors arrived. Blue and Great Tits were joined by Blackbirds and then wow – a Short Toed Treecreeper, right there on a branch and then going in for a bathe. The species kept coming and coming, and to my amazement I was soon watching Iberian Chiffchaff, Melodious Warbler, Bonelli’s Warbler, a female Pied Flycatcher and a female Common Redstart. A small group of Bee Eaters passed low down but didn’t linger and surprisingly a Tawny Owl began hooting away. Nuthatches, Sardinian Warblers, Jay, Chaffinches and Wrens all appeared in turn and a Common Whitethroat seemed to be on edge – possibly due to the male Sparrowhawk that had whizzed through a little earlier?

A Spotted Flycatcher flew past and as we watched, a male Subalpine Warbler arrived to take a bath. What an absolutely wonderful experience seeing so many birds and some great species up close. My thanks to Peter for pulling that one out of the bag.

Bonelli's Warbler
Such a great experience to up close to so many birds and especially this Bonelli’s Warbler.

We headed off for some late breakfast, watching a Honey Buzzard and a Common Buzzard along the way. At Canete Real we watched Swallows, Crested Larks, Thekla Larks, four Blue Rock Thrushes on the rocks together, Griffon Vultures, a Fan-tailed Warbler that stayed hidden away in a Tamarisk, Stonechats, Collared Doves, a Red-rumped Swallow, another Bonelli’s Warbler, a Tree Grayling butterfly, juvenile Woodchat Shrike, a Scarce Swallowtail butterfly, Willow Warbler and a flock of nine Corn Buntings. A Squirting Cucumber plant was a lifer for me. After lunch in Campillos we headed down to one of the lagoons which had a good mix of birds including Black-winged Stilts, six Black-tailed Godwits, Shoveler, Kentish Plovers, Marsh Harrier, Coot, Common Pochard, several Black-necked Grebes and White-headed Ducks, Little Grebe, Greenshank, Ruff, Red-crested Pochards and a pair of Common Snipe which were huddled close to the base of a Tamarisk, Teal, Cetti’s Warbler and a Collared Pratincole which was a nice surprise.

Several Pallid Swifts were aerial feeding and a Black Rat squashed on the road was already attracting a number of flies. At the nearby Laguna Dulce, a whopping 508 Greater Flamingo’s awaited us, along with several Dunlin, Common Sandpipers, a single Green Sandpiper, more Ruff and 60 Black-winged Stilts. A juvenile Spotted Redshank was totally unexpected and a rare sight here. Gadwall, Little Stints and a Curlew Sandpiper in partial breeding plumage were all added to the list. An Osprey made its way past quite high up with a Marsh Harrier hunting below it, and a single Black Kite drifted gently past. At some nearby fields we looked on the off chance for Little Bustards but sadly to no avail. We did have nice views of a family group of Hoopoes though.

Not a bad bird to see on my last day, then again it always a good day when you see a Hoopoe.

Well, sadly it was coming ever closer to the time I needed to be back at Malaga airport, so we headed off for one last coffee and a good chinwag covering a multitude of topics. Before arriving at the airport, we stopped off at the water area again where we watched the waxbills on the first day. More Common Waxbills were drinking from a puddle along with Serin and Greenfinches. A Turtle Dove came down for a drink and as we were heading off, a Spotted Crake calling from deep within the reeds was the last species to be added to an awesome list of 120 birds. I also clocked up nine dragonfly and damselflies for my life list, seven butterfly species, a species of fish and Terrapin and several plant species. Now that’s not bad going for three days.

Peters enthusiasm not just for the birds, wildlife and plants, but for the conservation efforts of the ABS shone through, and it was a result of this passion and inspiring projects Peter told me about, that I decided there and then to become a member of the ABS. My sincere thanks to Peter Jones for some great guiding and for the company, not to mention having to listen to my daft Welsh humour.

Author: Neville Davies – ABS member.
Photos: Peter Jones

Note: Neville Davies is the author of Bird watching on Majorca with a second edition about to go to print. Neville also writes a weekly column every Saturday called ‘Wild Majorca’ for the Majorca Daily Bulletin.  For information on his upcoming book or for any questions, Neville can be contacted at wildmajorca@gmail.com

Note: The views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.

Leave a Reply